With only $5 million left from a $43 million war chest and victories in neither Iowa nor New Hampshire, the Dean campaign regroups. At least Dean still leads in fund raising, organization, and delegates.

I confess that I never saw the meta issue of “electability” as the key to Democratic victory, but it appears to be the winning point for Sen. John Kerry, aka Captain Botox, in the Democratic primaries thus far. Some 75 percent of Iowa voters opposed the Iraq war that Kerry voted to support, but the vast majority of them voted for Kerry as nominee. Indeed, what we’ve seen is that issue-based voters go overwhelmingly for Dean but “electability” voters break sharply for Kerry. Many see him as the best shot at defeating Bush in November, and most rightly conclude that defeating Bush should be the central preoccupation of the coming political year.

This raises the interesting question: Why isn’t Howard Dean electable? Although some will disagree with him on the issues, polling actually indicates the reverse tends to be true. Dean’s issue profile is, for the most part, incredibly attractive to Democrats (and independents).

Is it his lack of military service? It certainly could be, though that never seemed a major hurdle within the Democratic Party for Bill Clinton. Kerry’s got a stellar military resumé, to be sure, and the Democrats have longed for a strong military guy to help them foist off their “soft-on-defense” psychological complex. I don’t think that’s it, though. Most opposed the Iraq war, but it’s not been a voting issue in the primaries. Kerry’s military service seems to be just a nice bonus rather than some kind of necessary qualification.

Another idea is that the media-created firestorm about the Iowa “I-have-a-scream” concession speech ripped away in “presidential” veneer Dean might have had, but it fails to explain the Iowa results themselves. (One note on the Iowa speech: The place was raucous and Dean was using a noise-cancellation microphone. Those in attendance found nothing wrong with his energetic speech. Even his yell at the end was barely heard above all the crowd noise. Only because television distorts reality did any of this become a campaign issue. The real question is whether or not the networks did this intentionally.) There might be something to this—I hesitate to overestimate the intellect of the American public—but I like to think that most folks saw Dean’s rah-rah speech for what it was. As I’ve said, if you’re going to disqualify Dean from the oval office for that, then you deserve the president you get.

Could it be that Dean’s “unelectability” is due to his position on gay civil unions? Most of the country opposes Dean on this particular issue (wrongly in my view). Ultimately, I don’t know the answer, but I’m very curious to find out. “Electability,” after all, is a meta issue. That is to say, that it’s an overview of a candidate, not a specific issue itself, because no candidate is electable if you don’t vote for them. Could all of this be a discomfiture with Dean’s position on gay rights more palatably stated as “electability”? I hope we find out.

Meanwhile the campaign grinds on. After spending enormously in Iowa and New Hampshire with unsatisfactory results, Dean’s conserving his cash (some $5 million cash on hand). He continues to raising big dollars—roughly $2.2 million since Iowa—and he is unconstrained by federal rules on the expenditure side of things since he did not take federal matching funds—something every other candidate except Kerry did.

Others do not have Dean’s kind of fund raising power or cash on hand. Lieberman, who should drop out after the February 3 contests, has about $350,000 left. Clark, after raising $14 million, has $3 million. Kucinich has $1.1 million presently. I’m probably reading the FEC reports wrong because Kerry’s filing looks like he only has $156,698 on hand. That can’t be right. And presently Edwards’ end-of-2003 report is nowhere to be seen. So who knows how it’s going for him.

The germane point, however, is that all candidates except Dean and Kerry have accepted federal matching funds and are severely constrained in how much money they can spend. If any of these candidates should “break out” and achieve some measure of success, it will be relatively short-lived. Dean and Kerry will swamp them in organization and advertising by March 2, Super Tuesday, when over half of all delegates are decided.

Getting to Super Tuesday with some momentum and with some cash is now the Dean strategy. If he can hit 15 percent an any of the February 3 states—Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Carolina—Dean can pick up some delegates, and he will do so without spending any more money than he already has. The theory, thus far untried and untested in presidential politics, is that if he can weather the losses on February 3 and make a go at Michigan and Washington which vote a week later (and in which Dean polls comparatively well), then Dean can use that momentum to challenge Kerry in New York and California on Super Tuesday. At that point, some of the other candidates—perhaps all of them—will be out of cash and the issue difference between Dean and Kerry will come into sharper focus. Since Dean wins on issues, so it goes, he’ll have a shot at beating Kerry and winning the nomination.

As I say this is all untried in presidential politics, but the reality is that the supernova failure of the Iowa-New Hampshire strategy has made it the only reasonable alternative left to Dean. If he weren’t the candidate he is and if he weren’t delivering the message of change he is, his candidacy would already be dead. Maybe it is anyway, but at least this way he gets a second shot at it.

As for Kerry, I’m afraid the Botox brouhaha represents exactly the type of weasel-like behavior that turned me away from him originally. Does anyone really care if the man had Botox injections? No. I think he looks better, my dad thinks he looks worse. It’s subjective. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Kerry has denied not only receiving Botox treatments by also knowing anything about it. And I dare say that if somebody sticks a needle in your forehead, you’ll know about it. So good Lord, man, why not just opt for the truth? Howard Dean has his faults, but he’ll give it to you straight (and likely with both barrels).

Of course, Kerry’s fib about Botox is nothing compared to Bush’s lies about, well, virtually everything. Don’t mistake me for saying that I think Kerry is less trustworthy than Bush—he’s just less honest than Dean.